Lindsey Delisle-Prosperie, of Buna, Texas, wasn’t too panicked in March when her father, Gary Delisle, told her that he had a “little bit of cancer.”
“The doctor said it could be healed through radiation,” the 25-year-old tells PEOPLE of the moment she got the news. “I was upset about the diagnosis, but I knew he could be cured. I thought he was going to be able to get better, but that didn’t happen.”
In the weeks after Gary, 58, was diagnosed with plasmacytoma — a cancerous plasma cell growth — the family struggled to pay for Gary’s treatment, as he did not have health insurance. As his health declined, Gary underwent a tracheostomy and was given a feeding tube.
“We weren’t able to verbally converse very much after that,” Delisle-Prosperie says. “It hurt me to see him like that. On the outside, I was being really strong for him. On the inside, I had to hold back tears a lot.”
Unable to speak due to the tracheostomy, Gary began using a small dry-erase board to communicate. Soon, he simply began scribbling notes on paper to talk to his daughter, who first shared their story with Love What Matters.
“One of them said, ‘I’m glad you’re here with me,’ ” the mom of two recalls, noting that she was with her father in the hospital for most of his stay. Photos of the notes show messages like, “I hurt,” “It’s been hard on everyone,” and “Take all my tubes out.”
Delisle-Prosperie says the messages gave her hope, noting that she was pleased that her dad had the strength to write in his final weeks. She says she saved as many as she could.
“I wanted to show them to him when he got better, because I knew he wouldn’t remember writing them since he was so heavily medicated,” the doting daughter tells PEOPLE.
But Gary never got better. He spent several days in the intensive care unit at a Texas hospital, and just when he seemed to improve, he suddenly went into cardiac arrest. Nurses were able to resuscitate him.
“I’ve never been through anything like that,” she says. “I stayed really strong and I talked to him. Even though he was sedated, I talked to him. I told him to stay strong and that I was staying strong for him.”
In the days that followed, Gary became strong enough to write his daughter a final message: “love.” A photo of the note appeared to show a small scribble, but Delisle-Prosperie says she had grown to understand her father’s nearly illegible handwriting.
“I could see the ‘L,’ even though that [note] was worse than the others,” she tells PEOPLE. “I said, ‘Are you writing, “You love me?” ‘ He shook his head, yes.”
Gary died a week later on May 6, shortly before he was expected to finally begin treatment.
“His body shut down. It was really terrible. I can’t find the words to describe it,” she says, adding that she was always been a “daddy’s girl.” “We always cooked together and tried new foods. That was our thing.”
She says the month since her father’s death has been difficult, but the notes have helped her cope with the loss.
“They mean everything to me; especially the one that says, ‘Love,’ ” Delisle-Prosperie tells PEOPLE through tears. “It’s our last memories together even though they are sad ones.”